Libya’s Islamic militants brag about receiving new Turkish weapons

Analysts argued that the publicity about the shipments was meant to highlight the role of Erdogan-led Turkey as the main backer of the Islamists in North Africa
Sunday 26/05/2019
“The Beast.” An armed militiaman poses in front of an armoured vehicle delivered by Turkey to Libya’s Tripoli government. (Facebook)
“The Beast.” An armed militiaman poses in front of an armoured vehicle delivered by Turkey to Libya’s Tripoli government. (Facebook)

TUNIS - Libyan Islamist militias went all out to display armoured vehicles received from Turkey, prompting fears across the country that Ankara might be repeating in Libya the role it played in Syria’s war by funnelling weapons to jihadists.

Islamist militias aligned with the UN-backed government in Tripoli posted on social media pictures of military vehicles as well as photos of a foreign-flagged ship that unloaded the military equipment at Tripoli as part of a shipment from Turkey that was divided between several militias and other armed gangs, statements and video by militia leaders indicated.

One of the Islamist militias’ leaders dubbed an armoured vehicle “the Beast” as his gunmen cheered standing by it and chanted “Allahu Akbar.”

Islamist militias are locked in a battle over the control of Tripoli with anti-Islamist Field-Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA). The LNA has been fighting since April 4 to seize control of the Libyan capital from militias.

Militia commander Salah Badi touted the lethal power of the Turkish armoured vehicles. “The Beast is here. The battle of Tripoli will be reversed in our favour in two weeks,” he said in the video.

The Badi-led Samoud Brigade and a militia called Brigade 33, commanded by Bachir Khalfallah, were among Islamist groups that announced sharing of military equipment.

They said the shipment from Turkey included anti-tank missiles, anti-air missiles, assault rifles and ammunition.

Last November, the US Treasury sanctioned Badi, accusing him of undermining Libyan security by attacking groups aligned with the UN-backed government in Tripoli.

In a statement, the US Treasury said the Samoud Brigade militia used Grad rockets in densely populated areas during clashes in Tripoli in September 2018.

Badi, a former Libyan Army officer, led an Islamist militia during the revolt in 2011 when NATO-backed Islamist rebels toppled Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi.

Libyan media said Badi returned from a long stay in Turkey to join the fight of Islamist militias against the LNA.

Military experts said the vehicles depicted in the video resemble Turkey-made Kirpi armoured vehicles.

Spokesmen for Turkey’s military and Foreign Ministry did not respond to media requests for comment about the shipment but Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in April that his government would stand by Tripoli authorities as they ward off the LNA’s offensive.

Fathi Bashagha, interior minister for the Tripoli-based government, visited Turkey in April to activate “security and defence agreements” between the two governments. Bashagha, a former air force fighter pilot, was a prominent figure in the Misrata militia in 2011.

Despite the open display of the shipment of arms from Turkey, Libyan government officials tried to distance themselves from the deliveries, insisting that “such action does not represent the approach of the Turkish state.”

Leaders across the Libyan divide complained about Turkey’s role in fanning the conflict by providing weapons and funding to armed militias.

Last December, the Tripoli-based government and Turkey agreed to open an investigation into a consignment of arms that arrived from Turkey and was seized at a port near Tripoli, the UN-backed Libyan leadership said.

The government released the statement following talks in Tripoli between Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. The statement quoted Cavusoglu as saying Ankara rejected such actions and that they do not represent the policy of the Turkish state.

The weapons were seized by customs in Khoms, 100km east of Tripoli.

The consignment sent from Turkey contained 3,000 Turkey-made pistols, as well as hunting rifles and ammunition.

Another cargo of 2.5 million rounds of Turkey-made ammunition was seized at the same port one day earlier. The Tripoli-based government and its rivals in eastern Libya issued complaints about Ankara funnelling weapons to Islamists in the area.

Last June, the United Nations renewed an arms embargo on Libya for another year.

Analysts in the Maghreb said publicity about the shipments was meant to highlight the role of Erdogan-led Turkey as the main backer of the Islamists in North Africa.

They argue that was part of Turkish efforts to offset the loss of influence in Cairo after the reversal of the gain by Muslim Brotherhood in 2013 when anti-Islamist President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ascended power.

The LNA Navy said it put its forces on alert to prevent further military shipments to the Islamist militias, warning Turkey against docking ships at any port in western Libya.

“The comprehensive embargo imposed on all Libyan ports in the west of the country was implementing an order from the LNA’s general commander to deny supply to the militias in western Libya,” the navy said in a statement, adding that Turkey shipped 40 armoured vehicles in the transfer that was praised by Islamist militias’ leaders.